“What do you want to be when you grow up?” someone asked 12-year-old Ulrich.
“I want to be tall like my friends,” he answered with a smile.
Even experienced nurses onboard the Africa Mercy had never seen a case quite like Ulrich’s. He was born with dislocated knees and a condition known as Quadriceps Contracture—a condition in which the leg muscles don’t develop at the same rate as the bones, causing the legs to bend drastically backward.
His mother, Georgette, tried desperately to find Ulrich the surgery he needed. But the cost of surgery and the severity of his condition defeated her hopes. “Surgeons wouldn’t touch him,” Georgette recalls. “It was hard to see him hurting. When he hurts, I hurt.”
Despite constant stares and ridicule, Ulrich adapted to his condition. He learned to walk with sticks made from sturdy branches. He even learned to climb trees higher than any other boy in his village! “When they couldn’t reach the tallest papaya, they’d call me! I’d be able to get it,” said Ulrich.
But his determination to be like other boys took its toll. He developed pain in his hands and joints from supporting his body weight and from walking long distances. “I was worried that if I was feeling such pain now, it was only going to get worse as I got older,” he said.
It broke his heart that it was increasingly difficult for him to help his mother by helping out around the house, collecting firewood, and fetching water. “I was scared to grow up like that. I didn’t want this to be all my life was ever going to be.”
The day Ulrich arrived on the Africa Mercy for his free surgery, volunteer surgeon Dr. Frank Haydon, who has volunteered with Mercy Ships for eight years, was shocked. “He moved like an insect … like a cricket. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Just when I think I’ve seen the worst case in my career, I meet the next Ulrich, and it keeps me going.”
After several complex surgeries, Ulrich woke up with two straight legs in casts. He had a hard time believing they were actually his legs. The first time he stood up, he reached up to see if he could touch the ceiling. “The first time he walked, he went straight into his mother’s embrace. It was the first time he had been able to hug her since standing tall,” said volunteer nurse Kirsten Murphy.
And now, Ulrich is walking straight and tall into acceptance and into his dream of an education.
“Before, when I would walk in the street, people would stare at me. They thought I was just a handicapped person, and they treated me differently. Now, they will look again,” smiled Ulrich.
Before Ulrich left the Africa Mercy, he slowly walked up to Dr. Haydon and handed him a very special gift … his old walking sticks. He won’t need them anymore, thanks to mercy.
Written by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina
Photographs by Saul Loubassa Bighonda, Shawn Thompson and Marina Schmid
Ernest’s eyes speak of a pain and sorrow beyond his 27 years. A facial tumor had been growing for over a decade, and he spent his young adult years hiding from the world, simply waiting to die.
“I was making everyone uncomfortable, so I would just stay home in bed all day, alone with my suicidal thoughts,” he explains
When he heard about Mercy Ships, he knew he had nothing to lose. He said goodbye to his wife and five- year-old son and made the two-day journey alone.
“Many men from my village have tumors, but they were too scared to come to the ship. They told me I would die,” he said.
But he knew they were wrong … this was his only chance to save his life.
By the time Ernest arrived at the hospital ship, he was dangerously ill, and his tumor was bleeding. Mercy Ships doctors admitted him for a life-saving blood transfusion. A local ENT surgeon assisted with Ernest’s case.
When Ernest’s condition stabilized, he received what five billion people around the world are unable to access – safe, affordable and timely surgery. As Ernest recovered physically, he also recovered emotionally – changing from a withdrawn, sad man into a confident, optimistic man. His new outlook on life was reflected in the light in his eyes.
Volunteer nurse, Kirsten Murphy (USA) monitored him the first night he was admitted and witnessed his transformation.
“I remember his persistence. I remember his new-found hope. I remember the huge grin that spread across his face post-surgery when he realized he was handsome!”
Now, Ernest returns home to be the man he’s always longed to be – the husband he feels his wife deserves and the father he wants to model for his son.
“Before, life was very difficult for me. I can’t wait to go back to my village and show those who doubted that Mercy Ships has given me new life.”
After more than 10 years of carrying a physical and emotional burden, Ernest is free!
“When I came here, my life was already over. Now I have everything in front of me.”
Story by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Saul Loubassa Bighonda and Shawn Thompson
With her fluffy pink dress and shiny shoes, three-year-old Cecilia is an undisputed princess—and no one is prouder of this ray of sunshine than her father, Emmanuel. She’s brimming with delightful energy, and Emmanuel is always one step behind her, ready to help her in the right direction. But, until recently, Cecilia needed more help than most little girls.
“She smiles all of the time,” said Emmanuel, “but she needs help to walk.”
Her legs appeared normal at birth, but as she grew, one of her knees formed abnormally. She was diagnosed with knock knees—a condition that causes the knees to angle together, and makes it nearly impossible for the legs to stay straight. Over time, it can cause serious pain and impair walking. Cecilia’s parents watched their bright-eyed child grow from baby to toddler—and her knock knee continued to worsen.
Finally, Emmanuel brought his daughter to Mercy Ships in search of a miracle. They left behind Cecilia’s mother and baby brother in hopes that when they reunited, Cecilia’s legs would be straight and her future brighter.
On the dock, father and daughter sat together on a wooden bench together while the monsoon rain poured down. Their warm smiles didn’t betray their long journey or hours of waiting.
“I’m so thankful for Mercy Ships coming to serve my people, who are in need,” said Emmanuel.
The family spent over a year waiting for a surgery that took little over an hour on the Africa Mercy. It was a simple procedure that would have enormous effects on little Cecilia’s life.
Cecilia was a source of joy in the hospital wards, and it wasn’t long after her surgery before she bravely took her first steps with her miniature walker. The only one smiling bigger than her was Emmanuel, who said her future now looks “bright and full of possibilities.”
Cecilia’s recovery time onboard the ship was filled with laughter as she played with bubbles and had her nails painted by nurses. Six weeks after surgery, it was time for her cast to come off! Her rehabilitation helped her grow comfortable walking on her straightened leg. When the time came for Cecilia and Emmanuel to go home, the volunteer team sent them home with lively singing and dancing.
Now, Cecilia can step forward into a life of limitless opportunities. She may only be three years old, but Emmanuel is already dreaming big for his little girl.
“My dream for her is to grow up and become a doctor, so she can change people’s lives,” Emmanuel said. “Just like the doctors here have changed hers.”
Written by: Rose Talbot
Edited by: Karis Johnson
Photographs by: Shawn Thompson
With December 25th right around the corner, “Christmas Cards” are filling mailboxes around the globe. -So here is one from Cameroon!
We wish you could be here with us… to celebrate with Cameroonians whose lives are being touched… to see the ship beautifully arrayed with fun new decorations sent from many corners of the world…. to experience what it means to “Come and Adore Him” in so many languages, styles and traditions…
As we reflect on the words of Isaiah 9 and our theme for this Advent season, we rejoice in the miraculous gift of Jesus. Incarnation. He is with us. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Cameroon in His name. We are so grateful for the support of each Mercy Ships staff and board member, supporter, partner and alumnus over the past year. We take courage as we look ahead at 2018 with eyes of faith, inspired by the great faithfulness and nearness of the Lord to us in this 2017. God is Good All the Time. We rejoice and thank you for the gift of your love and support!
On behalf of the Africa Mercy Crew and the people of Cameroon, We Wish You A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year!!!
-Warrie Barrie, Africa Mercy Managing Director
It’s hard to work if you’re a teacher who’s afraid of children, a jockey afraid of horses, or even a nurse afraid of surgery, like 44-year-old Fanta. Despite working in the medical field for over 17 years, Fanta was too frightened to undergo surgery to remove a 10-pound Lipoma tumor under her right arm. For nearly 10 years, she learned to strategically hide the tumor under draped shawls while she worked, refusing to have surgery to remove it.
“How can I expect people to respect me as a nurse and not be scared themselves when I am too afraid to do anything about my own problem?” Fanta said.
Since she was a young girl, Fanta saw nurses at her local hospital in their uniforms taking care of people, and she knew she wanted to be a nurse, too. But, after hard work and a long journey to achieve her dream, her watermelon-sized tumor made it hard for her to wear the uniform she’d longed to wear as a girl. As the tumor grew painfully large, she knew something had to be done. However, working in the local hospital only heightened her fears of having surgery.
“My colleagues told me I would die if I tried to have it removed, and that I had left it too long,” Fanta said. “I see the surgeries, I see the blood, and I hate the thought of not being in control of my own body.”
When she heard about Mercy Ships through her hospital, she was filled with hope instead of worry. During her consultation with Mercy Ships, she felt more at ease than she had ever felt before.
“The nurses at the ship are so compassionate and loving,” Fanta said. “They kept reassuring me that everything was going to be more than okay, and something in me trusted them!”
It only took a three-hour surgery onboard the Africa Mercy for Fanta to realize how much her fear held her back for the past decade. Her lighter arm and brighter smile made her wonder why she’d waited so long.
“I can now lift my arms with ease! I will be able to dress like the other ladies at my hospital,” Fanta said. “My husband has already bought me some new fabric so I can make more dresses that show off my arms!”
For patients like Fanta, Mercy Ships removes more than just tumors. After her free surgery, Fanta’s fear and anxiety were dispelled as quickly as her hope was restored.
Story by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson
Photos by Saul Loubassa Bighonda